Half a century sounds like a very long time, especially given the fact that cinema was only born in the late 1880s. However, although the films of 1973 were released 50 years ago, many of them remain remarkable and absolutely thrilling to behold all these years later.
The 1970s were a highly influential decade for cinema. During this period, which came to be known as New Hollywood, emerging artists with fresh visions thrived while introducing techniques and trends that remain important in the modern era. Indeed, the story of American filmmaking would have gone very differently without the masterpieces from the 1970s. The talent both behind and in front of the camera created revolutionary titles in those days, and many of the artists from that era went on to have notable careers. In fact, a few of those careers are still going strong to this day.
1973 certainly had its share of gems. From a road comedy to a supernatural horror film to a coming-of-age comedy-drama, the films that were released that year captivated audiences. Below, in celebration of their 50th Anniversaries, A.frame takes a look back at some of the exceptional films from 1973.
George Lucas first entered the feature film arena with his cult sci-fi film THX 1138 (1971), but Hollywood really took notice with his sophomore release, an irresistible coming-of-age story and a love letter to the early '60s. Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfuss head an impressive cast (which also includes a very young Harrison Ford and the late Suzanne Somers) in a tune-filled snapshot of life during the transition from high school to college. The film would have a significant impact throughout the decade, paving the way for numerous nostalgia projects like Grease (1978) and the TV series Happy Days.
A crime film of a different kind was delivered in the feature directorial debut from a filmmaker who would come to be widely recognized as American cinema's most distinctive poet, Terrence Malick. Badlands is a beautifully shot and haunting cinematic reverie inspired by the real-life murder spree in 1958 of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Here, Martin Sheen plays the handsome but extremely dangerous Kit who lures naive South Dakota teenager Holly (Sissy Spacek) away from her abusive father on a Midwest trek that leads to a mounting body count. Inspired by a road trip by Malick during his time at the AFI, the film established the lyrical visual style that would become the influential director's trademark and inspired many subsequent lovers on the lam films, including the 1993 Tony Scott film written by Quentin Tarantino, True Romance.
William Peter Blatty's bestselling horror novel about a young girl's possession by a demonic force and its effects on a priest undergoing a crisis of faith became the most talked-about shock film of the year and the highest-grossing film of the year at the box office. The late William Friedkin pulls out all the stops for an aural and visual assault depicting the powers of evil battering against the normality of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan's (Linda Blair) life in Georgetown, with Jason Miller and Max von Sydow — in remarkable Dick Smith makeup — as the two priests who offer a ray of hope. Followed by several sequels, imitators, and a TV series, The Exorcist managed a rare feat for a horror film by receiving ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Burstyn, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Blair, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Miller, and Best Cinematography, and went on to win two Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. Fifty years later, the saga lives on with The Exorcist: Believer kicking off a trilogy. The film, released earlier this fall, co-stars Burstyn, who returned to reprise her role for the first time.
High Plains Drifter
Following his directorial debut with the thriller Play Misty for Me (1971), Clint Eastwood stepped behind the camera again for this eerie, unsettling seaside Western set in the fictitious town of Lago. Fresh off his Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay for The French Connection (1971), screenwriter Ernest Tidyman wrote this dark take on the man with no name formula made famous by Sergio Leone's Man with No Name trilogy starring Eastwood. Here, Eastwood stars as The Stranger, an anonymous rider who comes into town and proceeds to tear about any semblance of civility, with his motives linked to the savage slaying of its sheriff while the townspeople stood by and did nothing. The film's success ensured that Eastwood would continue to direct Westerns regularly throughout his career, culminating in his Best Picture-winning masterpiece, Unforgiven (1992).
The Last Detail
Director Hal Ashby’s hot streak was going full force when he helmed this acclaimed and outrageously profane combination of buddy comedy and road movie. Jack Nicholson and Otis Young star as two Navy servicemen tasked with transporting young seaman Randy Quaid to military prison, which leads to several misadventures and an attempt at one last fling for the future prisoner. For their performances, Nicholson received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Quaid was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, while Robert Towne was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Towne would go on to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for another film starring Nicholson, Chinatown (1974).
With his third feature film, director Martin Scorsese discovered the crime film formula that would define several of his later masterpieces. Working with Robert De Niro for the first time (and with Harvey Keitel for the second), he explores the trials of New York City life for young Italian-Americans dealing with family issues, loan sharks, the mob, and growing up, largely based on the director's own experiences and observations. Crammed with vintage pop tunes and classic set pieces, Mean Streets served as a major calling card for a filmmaker who would only continue to flourish and become one of the greatest auteurs in cinema history.
After proving that black-and-white films could still be both box office successes and major award winners with The Last Picture Show (1971), director Peter Bogdanovich repeated the feat with this Depression-set road comedy. The late Ryan O'Neal stars as con artist Moses Pray who ends up escorting young Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), the orphaned daughter of an ex-flame, across the Midwest to her aunt. For her stellar performance as Addie Loggins, O'Neal became the youngest competitive Oscar winner, winning for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. One could argue that no supporting cast member has ever stolen more scenes in a film, quite a feat given that the young O'Neal was acting opposite her movie star father and the hilarious Madeline Kahn (who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance).
This beloved Disney animated feature about Sherwood Forest's famous archer and altruistic robber features a bevy of hummable songs, including the Oscar-nominated "Love." This iteration of the tale transforms familiar characters like Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Prince John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham into colorful animal counterparts with the voice performance of Terry-Thomas proving especially delightful as the scheming snake Sir Hiss.
The real-life story of whistleblower cop Frank Serpico and his near-death experience at the hands of his fellow officers became a classic of New York City crime storytelling in the hands of director Sidney Lumet. Nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance, Al Pacino scored one of his most iconic roles, showing the progression of Serpico from an idealistic young rookie to a conflicted truth-teller forced to expose the widespread corruption within the police force. In addition, his distinctive long hair, beard, and fashion inspired numerous imitators throughout the '70s and made him a key pop culture image in Saturday Night Fever (1977).
Teamed up again after the wildly popular Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Paul Newman and Robert Redford slip into stylish 1930s threads for the supremely entertaining tale of confidence men plotting the ultimate con to get even against the murderous Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) and his crew. Audiences had their work cut out for them guessing who was doing the conning throughout director George Roy Hill's film, all the way down to the big final surprise. In addition to popularizing Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" all the way up the charts, the film received ten Oscar nominations, including Best Actor in a Leading Role for Redford and Best Cinematography, and went on to win seven Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Song Score.